The Spectacle Blog

Ron Paul: The New Old Joe Kennedy

By on 7.23.14 | 12:14PM

The legend that is John F. Kennedy today, the martyred youthful president who is perpetually popular in polls rating the “greatness” of presidents, has left out a number of facts. 

But one of those facts has resurfaced with the news that former congressman Ron Paul, father of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul—the latter a 2016 presidential possibility—has written a column sympathizing with Vladimir Putin’s Russians.

For those unfamiliar with the Kennedy story, essentially it is this. JFK’s father was Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. Joe Kennedy, whose own father Pat was a bartender, was an up-by-his-bootstraps Harvard grad, a wealthy banker and wheeler-dealer who accrued the Kennedy fortune from not only banking but (pre-regulated) Wall Street, Hollywood, and—famously—bootlegging in the days of Prohibition.

A big supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, Joe was rewarded with the chairmanship of the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission. But Joe, in addition to wanting to be president himself, also wanted another post that was especially dear to his Irish-Catholic heart. FDR gave it to him, making Joe Kennedy the first Irish-Catholic U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James, aka ambassador to England. It was the ultimate position for someone looking to compel the Brits to recognize Irish Catholicism, since England and Ireland still had that legendary at-each-others-throats-for-centuries thing going.

So amidst major media coverage for the day (meaning newsreels), Joe Kennedy and wife Rose sailed for England with five of their even-then-telegenic nine kids in tow. As seen here young Jack (in school) was absent. But famous older brother Joe Jr. is there, along with sisters and a young Bobby and Teddy.

Alas, politically speaking the ambassadorship was a fateful—and bad—experience for Joe. Adolph Hitler was on the rise, and the storm clouds of what would become World War II were gathering. Time after time, Joe gave the impression to everyone, from the Brits to the Germans to the U.S. State Department, that he admired Hitler, thought the Nazis had done “great things,” and—particularly troublesome—had a real streak of anti-Semitism. 

All of this combined to end Joe’s ambassadorship, not to mention his presidential hopes. At that point, Joe came home and settled in to make his oldest and namesake son Joe Jr. president. When Joe Jr. was killed in the war, Joe Sr. zeroed in on Jack. By 1960, JFK was on his way. 

But the question quickly arose: what to do with Joe? His disastrous stint as ambassador was only twenty years distant. JFK himself was a hero of the war. Harry Truman, no fan, was asked about his own alleged anti-Catholicism, and replied that he wasn’t concerned about the Pope so much as “the Pop.” The Gridiron Dinner in early 1960 mocked the situation with a skit that had the line “Jack and Bobby will run the show/While Ted’s in charge of hiding Joe.” It was a reference to JFK's decision to hide his father during the campaign. Word leaked that Joe had said his way of keeping in touch was that he “read the newspapers.” During the entire 1960 campaign, Joe Kennedy made one public appearance: at JFK’s side for the morning-after victory speech when the election was finally won.

So why this ancient history?

News arrives this morning that former congressman Ron Paul has a column in which he unabashedly sympathizes with Vladimir Putin’s Russians.

Whatever else, this is not going to help his son Rand. Rand Paul has controversial views of his own, many attractive, some that cause concern particularly in foreign policy. But as with JFK, if Rand actually runs, it should be Rand who runs, not Dad. It was unfair to saddle JFK with Joe’s views—in fact father and son did disagree. JFK hero-worshipped Churchill; Joe couldn’t stand him. JFK heaped praise on FDR; Joe told Truman FDR was “the crippled son of a bitch who killed my son," meaning Joe Jr.

So controversial fathers of presidential candidates are not new. The question is what to do with them. JFK hid his, and his father understood the reason and happily went along to get his son elected. Will Ron Paul disappear if Rand Paul runs? If he doesn’t, as the news this morning vividly illustrates, there can only be trouble for Rand ahead.

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